Ranking the Top 50 Forwards in the NHL for the 2013-14 Season

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IISeptember 26, 2013

Ranking the Top 50 Forwards in the NHL for the 2013-14 Season

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    Picking the top-50 forwards in the NHL heading into the 2013-14 season turned out to be pretty tough. There are just so many different angles to consider. So many different little things that a forward can bring to the ice to change the outcome of a game.

    Who is more valuable: Ryan Callahan, who will block shots and lay his body on the line to win? Or Phil Kessel, who is capable of scoring from just about anywhere inside the offensive zone but isn't exactly a monster in his own end.

    The list of intangibles is staggering. The possible outcomes, endless. If there were an honorable mentions slide in play here, it could conceivably hold as many names as the list itself and still not appease everyone or include all the "correct" names.

    We did our best to consider all facets of the game equally. A guy who prevents 50 goals a year is arguably just as valuable as the guy who scores 50, after all. Outside of the obviously elite players, everyone on this list is movable.

    That's not a cop out. That's just the truth.

    Joe Pavelski is listed as our No. 41, but he could conceivably muscle his way into the top-25 if the proper argument is made. The gap in talent between almost everyone here is razor thin, so if you think Player A should be 15 spots higher, odds are he could be.

    At the end of the day though, at least we didn't forget Bobby Ryan.

    All statistics appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com.

No. 50-46

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    50. Evander Kane - Winnipeg Jets: Kane had increased his goal and point totals for three straight seasons until the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. Had the year been a full 82 games, it would have been four straight for the slowly blossoming sniper. 30 goals this season isn't out of the question.

    49. Pascal Dupuis - Pittsburgh Penguins: Dupuis detractors will say that he wouldn't be the same player if he wasn't on the same line as Sidney Crosby. Then again, No. 87 is so good that the same would be said for just about anyone. You have to work hard for chemistry and awareness though, and Dupuis has put in his time with Sid. He also lead the NHL in plus-minus rating last season with a massive plus-31.

    48. Jeff Carter - Los Angeles Kings: The guy can score goals, we'll give him that. Carter was fourth overall in goal scoring in 2013 and is arguably the most dangerous member of the Kings. He somehow managed to be a dead even zero on the plus-minus side of things, despite his 26 goals however.

    47. Ryan Kesler - Vancouver Canucks: Injuries haven't always been a problem for Kesler. He played in every single regular season for the Canucks between 2008 and 2011, and only missed two contests in 2007. If he can regain that kind of health, he'll easily climb up this list as he's one of the better multi-threat centers in the league.

    46. Derek Stepan - New York Rangers: The Rangers appeared set to begin the season without their leading scorer from 2013, but the two sides finally managed to settle on a two-year pact. It'll be interesting to see how the 23-year-old pivot responds to missing almost all of training camp, but there's no doubt that this kid can play.

No. 45-41

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    45. Matt Moulson - New York Islanders: Like Pascal Dupuis, Matt Moulson doesn't get a lot of respect because he's viewed strictly as a wing man for his elite center. Three straight 30 goal seasons leading up to the truncated 2013 campaign speak for themselves though. He tacked on another 15 markers last year and would have likely broken the 30-goal barrier for the fourth consecutive time, making Moulson one of the most consistent goal scorers in the NHL.

    44. Andrew Ladd - Winnipeg Jets: The steady captain of the Jets would have had his best statistical year to date in 2013 had there been 82 games. He was nearly a point-per-game guy for Winnipeg, scoring 46 points in 48 games while also leading the team in plus-minus with a plus-10 rating.

    43. Milan Lucic - Boston Bruins: The bruising Lucic is the embodiment of what the Bruins want to see out of their forwards. He plays hard every shift, and it's impossible to put a value on what he does over the course of a playoff series. Lucic leans on the opposition's best players, and you can bet they're moving slower by the time Game 5 rolls around.

    42. Max Pacioretty - Montreal Canadiens: If you're looking for a dark horse to crack the NHL's top-10 goal scorers in 2013-14, Pacioretty is your guy. He posted 33 in a breakout 2011-12 campaign, and was solid for the Habs again in 2013 while scoring 15 times. His goal total was tied for tops for Montreal, while he lead the squad in points.

    41. Joe Pavelski - San Jose Sharks: The day will come when the San Jose Sharks will be Pavelski's team (along with Logan Couture). When he's the go-to guy throughout an entire season, he could jump into the top-25 (alongside Couture). As it stands right now, he's one of the best secondary scoring options in the league and is capable of scoring 60 to 70 points in a year despite not earning the lion's share of top minutes yet.

No. 40-36

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    40. Thomas Vanek - Buffalo Sabres: One of the more underrated players in the NHL once he gets below the hash marks, Vanek is capable of beating defenders and goaltenders in a variety of ways. He can snipe and dangle with the best of them, and is an outstanding shot deflector. The Sabres aren't exactly stacked at forward, and Vanek will play a ton of important minutes for them down the stretch in 2013-14.

    39. Jason Spezza - Ottawa Senators: Ryan Kesler and Spezza should start a club. When healthy, few centers in the NHL can hit open teammates through small seams like Spezza. Sadly, he hasn't been on the ice nearly as much as he has been on the IR lately. He only played in five games during the regular season in 2013. Another campaign like that and we're giving his spot to Chris Kuntiz.

    38. Bobby Ryan - Ottawa Senators: With all the attention that pundits pay to inconsistent players, it's surprising no one pays more respect to guys like Ryan who do nothing but score goals, season in and season out. He's a lock for 30 at this point, and with a slick-passing center like Spezza at the helm, who knows how much damage Ryan is capable of.

    37. Brad Marchand - Boston Bruins: Little Ball of Hate Jr. (sorry, Pat Verbeek was the original) has a knack for scoring timely goals and irritating the competition to no end. His true value lies in being an agitator that can score. Like a more talented Darren McCarty, Marchand can post 55 points and push 90 PIMs in a season without much of an issue.

    36. Jordan Eberle - Edmonton Oilers: 2013 was an interesting year for Eberle. After seeing his point total jump 33 from 2010-11 to 2011-12, the lockout snuffed his forward momentum. He took it out on an unsuspecting AHL, where he scored 51 points in 34 games before finally returning to the NHL. Thirty-seven points in 48 games isn't bad, but with a full season's worth of momentum, Eberle could be considered one of the most destructive offensive forces in the league by the end of the year.

No. 35-31

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    35. Jamie Benn - Dallas Stars: The Stars had a rough season in 2013, and after trading away veterans such as Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder, a bulk of the scoring responsibility fell to Benn. The natural wing has taken a ton of shifts at center over the last two seasons, and is all the more dynamic because of it. Instinct chemistry with Tyler Seguin could push the new Dallas captain to new heights in the points department.

    34. David Backes - St. Louis Blues: Cut from the same cloth as Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan, Backes is an uber-physical presence every time he's out on the ice and can leave his opponents hurting in more ways than one. A 62-point 2010-11 gave the St. Louis faithful hope of Backes becoming a top-tier power forward in the NHL, but since then his offense has trailed off a bit while the PIMs and hits keep on coming.

    33. Loui Eriksson - Boston Bruins: This is likely one of the last times we'll get the chance to call Eriksson underrated. Despite what some Boston fans may think, there really aren't many under-covered players on the Bruins, and Eriksson's two-way style and scoring touch will make him a fan favorite over night.

    32. Matt Duchene - Colorado Avalanche: Duchene has the talent to be one of the better players in the NHL, yet he seems to struggle with consistency as the Avalanche continue to search for an identity after a long stretch of irrelevancy. As Colorado continues to improve, Duchene should see an increase in numbers as well. His 43 points through 48 games in 2013 could be a precursor to the breakout season we've been waiting for since 2010-11, when Duchene teased at his elite abilities with a 67-point year.

    31. Rick Nash - New York Rangers: Along the same lines as Jeff Carter, Rick Nash is an outstanding goal scorer that tends to turn invisible when the puck isn't on his stick. Derek Stepan might be the best center he's ever played with however, so a return to 40-goal form isn't entirely out of the question.

No. 30-26

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    30. Patrick Sharp - Chicago Blackhawks: A remarkable string of six seasons with at least 20 goals was snapped aggressively in 2013. Sharp only scored six times through 28 games as he battled the injury bug. He returned to his true form during the playoffs though, potting 10 goals through 23 games en route to another Cup ring.

    29. Ryan Callahan - New York Rangers: There isn't an athlete more associated with any one word than Callahan and "intangibles." Ricky Williams/green, O.J. Simpson/innocent?! and Tim Tebow/unemployed might give him a run for his money, but Callahan comes out on top. Because he always comes out on top. You know why? The intangibles, baby.

    28. Dustin Brown - Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown lives to be an overtly physical, in-your-face force for the Kings. There isn't a night on record where he didn't bring 110% effort to the rink, and he's been a steady 55-point (or so) player since 2006-07. He'll retire a King, and it's likely that they'll retire his number after it's all said and done.

    27. Joe Thornton - San Jose Sharks: It feels like Thronton should be as old as Jaromir Jagr at this point because he's been around forever, but at 34 Jumbo can still bring it. The days of his pushing the century mark are likely gone, but 40 points in 48 games through 2013 proves that he's still one of the better centers in the league.

    26: Nicklas Backstrom - Washington Capitals: As Alex Ovechkin goes, so goes Backstrom. It's no coincidence that the pair's up and downs perfectly coincide, but now that the Great Eight has rediscovered his love of the game (and scoring power-play goals), Backstrom could once again approach the 100-point barrier. Even if he doesn't score the goals needed, he's good for at least 65 assists while setting up Ovie for that monster one timer.

No. 25-21

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    25. Corey Perry - Anaheim Ducks: Some believe that Perry is truly a 50-goal, 100-point player. We're not in that camp, but there's no denying that Perry's hot streaks tend to run hotter than just about anyone not named Ovechkin. Somewhere between 98 points and 60 points is a nice median, and Perry brings a good amount of grit to the ice and isn't very fun to play against.

    24. Ryan Getzlaf - Anaheim Ducks: Neither is Getzlaf. These two are peas in a pod and Anaheim's success is directly linked to strong seasons from Getzlaf and Perry. We like the former a bit more because he brings a bit more of a dimensional attack to the game. He's got an underrated shot, outstanding vision and can blow guys up along the boards whenever he feels like it.

    23. Marian Hossa - Chicago Blackhawks: Despite fighting the injury bug throughout his entire career, Hossa could end up a Hall of Famer. He'll have more than 500 career goals by the time he's done, and he's easily one of the top-10 best defensive forwards in the NHL. During a healthy-ish year, Hossa can post 70 points while showing staggering puck possession numbers to boot.

    22. Logan Couture - San Jose Sharks: Watching Couture climb the ranks of the league's best over the last three years has been joyous. At least to anyone who doesn't have a rooting interest in teams playing against the Sharks. He's been brought on slowly by San Jose, and the change in culture that is occurring within the locker room can be directly attributed to Coutre's rise. Be on the lookout for his first 70-plus point season in 2013-14, as the 24-year-old is just now reaching his prime.

    21. James Neal - Pittsburgh Penguins: Unlike Pascal Dupuis or even Matt Moulson, it's likely that Neal would be a dynamite finisher no matter who is his center. Playing alongside a truly elite setup man like Evgeni Malkin doesn't hurt though, and if they both manage to play 75 games for Pittsburgh, there could be a Rocket Richard in Neal's near future.

No. 20-16

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    20. Taylor Hall - Edmonton Oilers: We're bullish on Hall for the upcoming season. We admit that 20 might be aggressively high, but we like his chances to finally evolve into the elite scoring threat that Edmonton was expecting when they drafted him first overall in 2010. Steven Stamkos was coming out of his second-consecutive 90-plus point season heading into his fourth year. The time is now for Hall to impress.

    19. David Krejci - Boston Bruins: It isn't fair to characterize Krejci as quiet during the regular season. He posted four straight seasons of at least 50 points before 2013, and it's likely he would have cracked that number for the fifth time in a row had there been a full slate of games. Compared to playoff Krejci though, regular season Krejci just seems quiet by comparison. He deserves a spot among the top-20 forwards in the game right now because of what he turns into during the postseason. 

    18. Eric Staal - Carolina Hurricanes: Nothing wakes up a slumbering point machine like Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin, apparently. That particular trio dominated almost all comers in 2013 and formed one of the best forward units in the entire league. Staal arguably saw his most prolific offensive output ever, posting 53 points in 48 games. He hasn't been a point-per-game guy since 2007-08, so it will be interesting to see if he continues along these lines in 2013-14. Our guess is yes.

    17. Daniel Sedin - Vancouver Canucks: One of the most engaging (albeit belabored) storylines heading into the 2013-14 season is the effect that new coach John Tortorella will have on the offensively super-powered Sedin twins. Daniel has been quieting down a bit since 2010-11—he had 104 points that year, but has barely scored that many over the last two seasons combined—but there's still no question that this duo will be a threat in the offensive zone. Granted, they have energy left after killing penalties.

    16. Henrik Sedin - Vancouver Canucks: Henrik's point total has been much more steady than his brother's over the last few seasons. He hasn't missed a game since 2003-04, making him one of the NHL's true iron men, and is still good for at least a point a game pace. Granted he doesn't sustain his first major injury after blocking a shot.

No. 15-11

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    15. Anze Kopitar - Los Angeles Kings: 2013 was a tale of two seasons for Kopitar. He was a strong player for the Kings during the regular season, posting 42 points in 47 games en route to what L.A. hoped would be another long playoff run. While the squad did make some noise in the postseason, Kopitar's nine points had little to do with it. Expect the funk to have passed in time for the 2013-14 campaign though, and for Kopitar's point totals to climb back into the mid-70's.

    14. Zach Parise - Minnesota Wild: The Wild will be one of the most interesting teams to keep an eye on during the 2013-14 season. The youth is expected to make big jumps, joining the likes of Parise to form a dangerous attacking group. If all goes according to plan, he could return to his 2008-09 form. If not, it could be time to reduce Parise's value as an elite forward a bit. Seventy-point seasons are nothing to be ashamed of, but Parise needs to regain his 80-90 point form to muscle his way into the top-10 again.

    13. Phil Kessel - Toronto Maple Leafs: For fear of sounding like a broken record, Kessel would have been a 30-goal scorer again during 2013 had the season been full length. That would have been his fifth consecutive 30-goal season, making him one of the most consistently dangerous shooters in the league.

    12. Henrik Zetterberg - Detroit Red Wings: Zetterberg was downright impressive down the stretch for the Detroit Red Wings. During his first season as captain he almost willed the Wings into the playoffs alone as the team fought through inconsistencies and injuries in 2013. His two-way acumen is well known, and he has another few 70-point seasons left in the tank while remaining a force in all three zones.

    11. Claude Giroux - Philadelphia Flyers: With 216 points through his last 207 games (or his last three seasons), Giroux has established himself as one of the top players in the NHL. He's the driving force behind Philadelphia's vaunted offense and seems poised for another 90-point outburst in 2013-14. The Flyers' chances of making the playoffs more or less hinge on it.

No. 10-6

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    10. Martin St. Louis - Tampa Bay Lightning: It's tough to rank the reigning Art Ross trophy at 10, but age has to catch up with Marty St. Louis at some juncture, right? We aren't willing to be the doomsayers that predict he'll fall off totally, but we don't see another Art Ross for him this season. Still, another 80-point year is very much within the realm of possibility.

    9. Patrice Bergeron - Boston Bruins: The second-best jack-of-all-trades type of player in the NHL, Bergeron rarely gets his due as Mr. Do-it-all for the Bruins. He's a rock star in the faceoff circle, has eyes in the back of his head and can shoot the puck with the best of 'em. While he won't win a scoring race or dominate in any particular way, Bergeron just always seems to be doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

    8. Patrick Kane - Chicago Blackhawks: Our dark horse (kind of) to win the Art Ross this season, Kane found a new gear in 2013. A scarier, more dangerous gear. If there had been 82 games to the season, he would have set new career highs in everything and the two-time Cup winner is just now entering his prime at 25. Look out for him in 2013-14, because he's going to be propelled by jet fuel.

    7. Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals: The move to right wing and the presence of Adam Oates probably saved Ovechkin's career. Or at least his reputation as one of the most dominating goal-scoring threats in the NHL. The slap shot is just as big as ever, the wrister is still a laser and No. 8 seems to have his passion for the game again. If teams wise up and stop taking penalties against Washington, Ovie could see his goal total drop, but that's just not going to happen.

    6. John Tavares - New York Islanders: Slowly but surely, Tavares has turned into one of the most skilled forwards in the NHL. He does everything with so much control, grace and poise that it's almost impossible not to reach for the rewind button on your DVR when an Islanders game is on TV (read: when the Islanders play the Penguins). 2011-12 saw Tavares score 81 points, but we think he has another level altogether.

No. 5-1

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    5. Steven Stamkos - Tampa Bay Lightning: The most electric goal scorer in the NHL these days, Stamkos is dangerous whenever he has the puck from the blue line in the offensive zone. No one in the league has quite the same quick strike capabilities, and few defenders can catch Stamkos if he forces them to turn with his speed. He'll push for 100 points for the first time in his career in 2013-14, and no one will be surprised if he hits it.

    4. Evgeni Malkin - Pittsburgh Penguins: When healthy, Malkin could very well be the best player in the game. Yes, including Crosby. His ability to take over games for long stretches with his combination of speed, size and skill is second to none, and very few players can hit 110 or more points in the NHL. A healthy Malkin in 2013-14 puts the Pens over the top as challengers for the Cup.

    3. Pavel Datsyuk - Detroit Red Wings: Jonathan Toews impressively dethroned Datsyuk as the league's best two-way forward in 2013, but No. 13 has been at it just a bit longer. He does things with the puck that most people can't even conceive of, and there may not be another player around that approaches the game so methodically despite being so, so quick. It's his puck when he's out on the ice. Everyone else is just playing keep away.

    2. Jonathan Toews - Chicago Blackhawks: Because of his health, track record as a champion and leader and two-way acumen, it's honestly very tempting to list Toews as the best player in the NHL for 2013-14. What he brings to the ice every night is almost overwhelming to consider: Toews is a faceoff ace, has become an outstanding defender, he's one of the best passers around and can finish any chances that he has.

    1. Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins: No one scores at a more prolific rate than a healthy Sidney Crosby. Love him or hate him, that is an undeniable fact. He doesn't possess the same reputation as a two-way monster like Toews or Datsyuk, but no one in the league makes the players around him better like Crosby. No disrespect to Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, but they aren't 30-goal threats on any other line in the NHL. The concussion issues are gone, and Crosby has a chance to play his first full season since playing 81 games in 2009-10.